… change will not come from Freedom Park or NLC House, it is better to hedge their bets on the Three Arms Zone. Will the Falanas, Utomis, Agbakobas, Odumakins et al run dogged campaigns to get into the National Assembly?
Somewhere on my bucket list is a sub-list of three people I want to meet, all Nobel laureates. One is the winner of the Economic Sciences prize in 1998, Amartya Sen. I am enthralled by his contribution to Welfare Economics, and his devotion to world’s poorest people. If you doubt the basic principles of voting majorities, you might be interested in his work on Social Choice. But his greatest achievement was his book, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, where he demonstrated famine was not only caused by a lack of food, but from inequalities in the mechanisms of food distribution. The second is a winner for Literature in 1986, Wole Soyinka. Thankfully, Kongi needs no introduction, so I can quickly move to the third person.
The only woman on this list is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the prize for Peace in 1991. She was awarded that Nobel in recognition of her non-violent struggle to establish democracy and good governance in Myanmar. Fittingly, she was unable to accept the prize in person because of an enforced house arrest order, so her sons represented her in Oslo. Aung San Suu Kyi been placed under house arrest for over 15 years, with various negotiations yielding minimal success. The United Nations even sent Ibrahim Gambari to negotiate with the ruling junta, but his familiarity with despots (having worked with Babangida and Abacha) could not help. After almost two decades of separation with her family, during which she lost her husband to cancer, she was released from house arrest in November 2010.
On Sunday, this remarkable woman started the journey from prison to parliament. Her party announced her victory at the parliamentary elections, meaning the face of Myanmar democracy will hold public office for the first time. In simple terms, she will be one of 600 parliamentarians. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) will be a minority in a parliament dominated by the military-backed ruling party. What the numbers don’t say is this symbol of hope for a long-suffering people now has a platform to affect the lives of the people she has sacrificed herself for.
In a democracy far from perfect, she has taken the first step in ensuring her voice will be seen as the agent of change, and without doubt it will be magnified to the ears of the oppressive. In her famous speech Freedom from Fear, she said “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Many of us can relate to this quote in Nigeria. She now has a chance to demonstrate how power can be used positively, and provide a platform for more incisive change during the next elections.
It is a lesson for many civil society groups in Nigeria. Change will not come from Freedom Park or NLC House, it is better to hedge their bets on the Three Arms Zone. Will the Falanas, Utomis, Agbakobas, Odumakins et al run dogged campaigns to get into the National Assembly? Will many of us here make concerted efforts for our state House of Assemblies? How long will we complain about a process that is unlikely to help honest candidates? It is Voltaire who said “the best is the enemy of good.” Most recently, I’ve heard Barack Obama and Kayode Fayemi rephrase that statement to read “never let the perfect be the enemy of good.”
At some point in the not too distant future, I will consider swapping my keyboard for the ballot box to seek elective office; I can’t see a credible alternative to this. As Ory Okolloh tweeted, the lesson from Aung San Suu Kyi’s courage, persistence, and determination is you can’t change things from the sidelines.